A “wether” is a castrated sheep, goat, or ram. “Whether” is a conjunction that functions like “if” by introducing alternate or opposite possibilities.
What is the difference between whether and wether?
The words whether and wether sound the same, but they have different meanings, spellings, and word forms:
- Wether is a noun that references castrated male animals, such as sheep, goats, and rams.
- Whether is a conjunction that functions similarly to “if” and introduces doubt or deliberation between alternative or opposite possibilities.
Most spell check software highlights “wether” because it’s a common misspelling of “whether” and “weather,” another easily confused word. In case you don’t know, the word weather describes the state of the atmosphere (e.g., rain, snow, cold, or heat) or the act of enduring metaphorical atmospheric conditions (‘weather the storm’ or ‘under the weather’).
Wether, weather, and whether are easy to confuse because they are homophones, which means they have different spellings and meanings, but they sound exactly the same. Words with separate meanings and identical spellings are called “homographs,” a different type of homonym.
The good news is that most people will understand what you’re trying to say if you use the wrong spelling. Just be sure to avoid using the spelling of “wheather” (that word doesn’t exist).
What does wether mean?
According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, the noun wether means ‘castrated ram’ (“Wether” 1964). However, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary also defines the noun as ‘a male sheep castrated at a young age’ or “a castrated male goat.”
- “The farmer is selling wether lambs and billy goats.”
- “The landowner enjoys keeping wethers as pets.”
- “She was preparing her wethers in the barn.”
Bellwether, billy goat, buck, and steer.
Desex, emasculate, fix, geld, neuter, spay, and sterilize.
Bull, ewe, stud.
Etymology of wether
The use of wether for “male sheep” stems from Old English weðer for ‘ram’ and shares a relation to German Widder and Dutch weer. The word wether is found in the 14th-century noun bellwether, which traditionally describes a sheep who leads its flock with bells on its neck.
What does whether mean?
The word whether is a conjunction used to express inquiry, choice, or doubt between alternate conditions (especially through indirect questions). For example,
- “I’m not sure whether I should go to school or work for my dad.”
- “She wondered whether to stay and wait or leave disappointed.”
- “Do you know whether or not any employees asked for a promotion?”
In addition, the conjunction indicates how a statement applies ‘to whichever of the alternatives mentioned is the case’ (“Whether” 1968). For example,
- “I’m teaching the class whether they like it or not.”
- “Whether or not he decides to run for office, what will the opposition party do to strengthen their base?”
What does “whether or no” mean?
The phrase “whether or no” is an archaic saying that means ‘in any case’ or ‘whether or not.’ Similar expressions include ‘anyhow,’ ‘anyway,’ ‘anyways,’ ‘regardless,’ or ‘whatever.’ For example,
- “Have a great night, whether or no.”
- “My primary concern is whether or no we should expect visitors.”
Even if, if, in case.
Etymology of whether
The word whether entered the English Language through Old English as hwæther or hwether. The conjunction is related to Old High German hwedar for ‘which of the two’ and wedar for ‘neither.’
Grammar guide: How to use whether in a sentence?
Similar to words like “and,” “although,” or “while,” “whether” is a conjunction that connects other words, phrases, and clauses. However, not all conjunctions function the same, and we can only use them for specific circumstances.
Types of conjunctions:
- Coordinating conjunctions “coordinate” grammatically similar words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., ‘and, but, for, or, not, so, yet’).
- Subordinating conjunctions (aka “subordinators”) connect dependent clauses to independent clauses (e.g., ‘after, because, if, how, when, where, while’).
- Correlative conjunctions consist of paired words that connect phrases, words, or clauses (e.g., “either, or,” “neither, nor,” or “both, and”).
What type of conjunction is whether?
“Whether” is a correlative conjunction because it appears as “whether or” (introduces two options or alternatives) or “whether or not” (presents two opposing options). For example,
- “I can’t decide whether to visit the mall or shop online.” (two options)
- “I can’t decide whether to shop or not.” (two opposing alternatives)
- “I can’t decide whether or not to go shopping.” (two opposing alternatives)
“Whether” acts like “if” (a subordinator) for most ‘yes-or-no’ or indirect questions, but it is still a correlative conjunction because it infers “if, or” or “if, or not.” For example,
- “Can you ask whether he wants a mocha or a black coffee?” (indirect question)
- “Do you know whether the bank is open [or not]?” (yes-or-no question)
When to use whether vs. if?
If you’re confused on when to use “whether” or “if,” follow these simple grammar rules:
#1. Use “whether” for formal situations.
Formal: “Do you know whether the President intends to uphold the peace treaty?”
Informal: “Do you know if the President intends to uphold the peace treaty?”
Formal: “Can you ask our boss whether I should use the company car?”
Informal: “Can you ask our boss if I should use the company car?”
#2. Use “whether” after a preposition, not “if.”
Correct: “I often think about whether I should attend class or stay at home.”
Incorrect: “I often think about if I should attend class or stay at home.”
Correct: “The kids are interested in whether there will be ice cream at home.”
Incorrect: “The kids are interested in if there will be ice cream at home.”
#3. Use “if” or “whether” for verbs of doubt
Correct: “I don’t know if/whether there’s ice cream at home.”
Correct: “I doubt if/whether there’s ice cream at home.”
Correct: “I’m not sure if/whether there’s ice cream at home.”
#4. Use “whether” before to-infinitives, never “if”
Correct: “He’s not sure whether to host or not.”
Incorrect: “He’s not sure if to host or not.”
#5. Never use “if” before “or not”
Correct: “Do you know whether or not it’s going to rain?”
Correct: “Do you know whether it’s going to rain or not?”
Correct: “Do you know if it’s going to rain or not?
Incorrect: “Do you know if or not it’s going to rain?”
Should I use “whether or not” or “whether”?
According to Garner’s Modern English Usage, the phrase “whether or not” is superfluous or unnecessary long because “whether” already implies “or not” (Garner 960–961).
Correct: “Do you know whether or not you’re going to the party?”
Most correct: “Do you know whether you’re going to the party?”
Should I use “whether or not” or “regardless of whether or not” ?
The “or not” of “whether or not” is necessary when “whether or not” means ‘regardless of whether.’ For example,
Correct: “I’m going to the party whether you like it or not.”
Incorrect: “I’m going to the party regardless of whether you like it or not.”
However, if you decide to write “regardless of,” the “or not” is superfluous. Choose one or the other:
Correct: “I’m going to the party regardless of whether you approve.”
Incorrect: “I’m going to the party regardless of whether you approve or not.”
When to use “of whether”?
According to GMEU, the conjunction “whether” normally follows the noun “whose dilemma it denotes.” For instance, we use “whether” with nouns, such as “decision whether,” “question whether,” or “issue whether.”
While we can use “of whether” for “regardless of whether,” there are limited instances when “of whether” is appropriate to use. For words like “issue,” the “of” is only obligatory when an adjective modifies the noun. For example,
Correct: “We must reassess the broader issue of whether…”
Correct: “She is referring to the contentious issue of whether….”
If an adjective does not modify nouns like “issue” or “question,” omit “of.”
Correct: “I must ask the pretentious question of whether you enjoy…”
Correct: “I must ask the question whether you enjoy…”
Incorrect: “I must ask the question of whether you enjoy…”
When to use “as to whether”?
The Word Counter recommends avoiding “as to whether” in sentences when the phrasing can be more concise. For example,
Least correct: “I never understood as to whether [read as ‘whether’] the Earth orbits the sun or vice versa.”
Most correct: “I never understood whether the Earth orbits the sun or vice versa.”
Least correct: “Lockdowns could mean the difference as to whether [read as ‘determine whether’] people live or die.”
Most correct: “Lockdowns could determine whether people live or die.”
How to remember the difference between weather, whether, and wether?
Learning the difference between weather, whether, and wether is not easy, but it’s possible if you can learn how to associate their spellings with related objects.
To remember the spelling of “weather,” try associating the term to “sweat,” which is the moisture that appears on our skin during “hot weather.” For example,
“Weather” = S + weather = Sweat (sweaty weather)
Likewise, we can also add a letter “s” to associate “weather” with “sweater,” the garment we wear for “cold weather” or “sweater weather.”
“Weather” = S + weather = Sweater (sweater weather)
A secondary method is to associate the letter “a” of “weather” with the word “atmosphere.” After all, there is no letter “a” in wether or whether. For example,
“Weather” = A = The state of the atmosphere
To memorize the spelling of “whether,” try remembering how the conjunction introduces two or more possibilities in a sentence. Therefore, look for the two h’s in the word “whether.”
“Whether” = 2+ possibilities = 2 h’s in “whether”
As for “wether,” it’s helpful to use rhyming terms associated with sheep or goats. The word “tether” works well because it’s spelled similarly to “wether,” and farmers use a “tether” to restrict an animal’s movement.
“Wether” = rhythms with “tether” = “Tether” the sheep and goats
Additional reading: whether vs. wether
For more lessons on tricky homophones and homographs, check out The Word Counter’s articles on topics, such as:
Typos are a fact of life, but they are less likely to happen if you’re on your game. See how much you’ve learned about whether vs. wether with the following multiple-choice questions.
- The words weather, whether, and wether are examples of _____________.
- Which of the following is not associated with the word “wether”?
a. Castrated sheep
c. Male goat
- Choose the correct words: “_____________ there’s bad weather or not, the _____________ need to sleep inside the barn at night.”
a. Weather, whethers
b. Whether, weathers
c. Weather, wethers
d. Whether, wethers
- Choose the correct words: “I’m unsure _____________ the _____________ will sell at the rodeo today.”
a. Weather, wethers
b. Whether, wethers
c. Wether, weathers
d. Whether, weather
- Choose the correct words: “We are going to feed the wethers whether the weather forecast is good or bad.”
a. Wethers, whether
b. Wheathers, whether
c. Whether, wheathers
d. Weathers, wether
- Garner, B. “Whether.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 960–961.
- Harper, Douglas. “Bellwether (n.).” Online Etymology Dictionary, Etymonline, 2020.
- “If or whether?” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
- “Homonym.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
- “Weather.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
- “Wether.” The New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 1964.
- “Wether.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
- “Whether.” The New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 1968.
- “Whether.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.“Whether.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.